Yoga, Tantra, and Kevalá Bhakti


Today’s subject of discourse is “Yoga, Tantra and Kevalá Bhakti”. In the sphere of spiritual practice, yoga, Tantra and kevalá bhakti, all three, are essential for the realization of Parama Puruśa. We should not ignore any of the three, although [ultimately] Parama Puruśa can only be attained by dint of bhakti – rather, kevalá bhakti [non-attributional devotion].

Now let us see what yoga is.
The word yoga may be derived either from the Sanskrit root verb yuiṋj plus the suffix ghaiṋ, or from the root verb yuj plus the suffix ghaiṋ. When yoga is derived as yuj + ghaiṋ it means “addition,” such as “two plus two equals four.” But when yoga is derived as yuiṋj + ghaiṋ, it means “unification”. For example, when sugar and water are mixed together, they become one. Sugar loses its individual identity. This is the real yoga.(1)

And yoga has also three major definitions. One of them is Yogashcittavrttinirodhah. The expressions or propensities of the human mind are primarily enumerated as fifty. And secondarily they are considered as one thousand in number.(2) The mind survives because of these vrttis. If the vrttis become non-existent, the mind also loses its existence. According to Maharshi Patanjali [who gave the above definition], if the vrttis are suspended, if their expressions are withdrawn and the vrttis become functionless, at that stage the mind will enter into a state of non-manifestation, the mind will lose its outward expression, and this state will be called yoga.

Now let us see. If the mind ceases to express itself and altogether stops functioning, how can it unify itself with any other object? In the state of functionlessness, the mind is transformed into something crude. At that stage the mind will become like a desert where there is no flower or fruit. Now on the one hand yoga means unification, but here in the practical sphere there is nothing with which the mind can unify itself; hence Patanjali’s definition of yoga does not seem to be very rational.

There is yet another definition of yoga, Sarvacintáparityágo nishcinto yoga ucyate – “When the mind is absolutely free of thoughts, when the mind is completely thought-less, that state of mind is called yoga.” Now when a person is sleeping, not even dreaming, in that state the mind is free from thoughts; furthermore, when someone becomes unconscious, at that time also the mind remains free from any thought whatsoever. But that is not yoga. The question is, since the mind is not unified with anything, how can this be accepted as a definition of yoga?

However, there is yet a third definition, which does seem reasonable. Saḿyoga yoga ityukto jiivátmá Paramátmanah – “When the unit consciousness merges itself fully and is finally identified with the Supreme Consciousness, Shiva, that is called yoga.” Here the microcosmic drop merges into the vast ocean of Consciousness; the microcosm merges into the Macrocosm. This state of supreme union or merger is what is called yoga. What is the supreme goal in the life of a spiritual aspirant? To merge the individual existence into Parama Puruśa, Paramátman, the ocean of Macrocosmic Consciousness. This is the real yoga. A person who would endeavour continuously in his or her individual life to attain the Supreme Entity should know that [this] yoga is the only way to attain it. There is no doubt about that.

Now let us see what Tantra is, and what the relationship is between Tantra and yoga. Taḿ jádyát tárayet yastu sah tantrah parikiirtitah. The sound ta is the acoustic root of dullness.(3) So “the science or systematic process that liberates one from the bondage of dullness or lethargy is called tantra.” The word tra is derived from the Sanskrit root verb trae, plus d́a. Tra means liberator, so the liberator from ta, that is, dullness, is called tantra.

There is yet another definition of tantra. In Sanskrit there is a root verb tan, which means “to expand”. (From this root verb tan the word tanu is derived. Tanu literally means the growing body of a child. The human body continues to expand up till the age of thirty-nine; that is why a young body is called tanu. Tanu means “that which is expanding”. An old man’s body should not be called tanu; it should be called shariira, because an old man’s body does not expand, it decays.) So tantra means that which shows the way towards expansion and ultimately liberation.(4)

When the unit soul or unit mind transcends the barriers of limitation, and in the process becomes infinite, there remains no bondage of finitude. That is the state of liberation. One’s existence becomes one with Parama Puruśa. Here Tantra and yoga are in complete agreement. So we have established that the word tan means expansion.

Let me digress a little to explain further the significance of the term ta [derived from tan]. You know the Sanskrit name of India is Bháratavarśa. The root verb bhar means “to feed” or “to nourish”, and the root verb tan means “to expand”, “to grow”. So the entity whose function is to feed, to nourish, and then help to grow, is called bhárata. And thus the land which feeds its population and thereby helps in the physical, psychic and spiritual growth of that population is called Bháratavarśa. (Varśa means “land” or “country”.) Bháratavarśa is a land which facilitates gradual growth and finally leads to emancipation; in other words, the mind and the soul gradually expand, and the soul becomes one with the Universal Soul. And in the state of highest expansion, all the eight fetters and six enemies of the human mind, that is, all the external [externally-imposed] and internal enemies of the human mind, will cease to exist; and thus when the microcosms are free from all bondages, they cease to remain as microcosms and become one with Shiva [Supreme Consciousness]. In Tantra it is said, Páshabaddha bhavet jiivah pásha muktah bhavet Shivah – “Those who are bound by the fetters are jiiva [unit consciousness] but one who is free from the fetters is Shiva.”

So we see that as a practical matter there is no difference between yoga and Tantra. Yoga is a practical cult; Tantra is also a practical cult. There may be a slight difference in language, but there is no difference in practice.
Now we come to kevalá bhakti. What is bhakti, or devotion? Bhakti is defined as,

Bhaktir Bhagavato sevá bhaktih prema svarúpinii;
Bhaktiránanda rupá ca bhakti bhaktasya jiivanam.

[Bhakti is service to God; bhakti is the form taken by divine love; bhakti is the embodiment of bliss; bhakti is the life of the devotee.]

When spiritual aspirants advance towards Parama Puruśa by dint of the practice of yoga or Tantra, they develop an exclusive devotion towards Parama Puruśa. Ananyamamatá Viśńormamatá premasauṋgatá – “Spiritual aspirants withdraw their minds from all mundane objectivities, and with the same intention direct all their physical, psychic and spiritual propensities towards Parama Puruśa.” They remove their individualities, and accept Parama Puruśa as their nearest and dearest one. This is what is called exclusive love for God. This is called kevalá bhakti. And only in this stage does devotion reach its fruition or culmination.

The term bhakti is derived as bhaj + ktin. When all the propensities are withdrawn from all other objects and diverted towards the Supreme goal, this is called bhakti. You may have noticed that people sometimes establish some kind of devotional relationship with God out of selfishness. For that reason there are different gradations of devotion. For example, there is támasikii bhakti, static devotion. People sometimes wrongly pray to the Lord, “Such and such persons are my enemies. Let harm befall them.” Here the mind has a defective thought within. The ideation is related to Parama Puruśa, there is no doubt about that, but here the person does not want to attain Parama Puruśa, rather he wants Parama Puruśa to help him by harming his enemies. Here you are moving towards Parama Puruśa, you are even mentally speaking to Parama Puruśa, but to attain Parama Puruśa is not your goal. Under these circumstances, Parama Puruśa may or may not grant your prayers, but one thing is certain, you will not attain Parama Puruśa, because you do not really want Him. This type of devotion is called támasikii bhakti [static devotion]. A genuine spiritual aspirant should keep away from this type of static devotion, because it leads to degradation.

The second type of devotion is rájasikii bhakti [mutative devotion]. In this type of devotion, the mind moves towards Parama Puruśa, and there is devotion, no doubt, but the mind does not want to attain Parama Puruśa. Here the sádhaka prays to Parama Puruśa, “O Lord, grant me some kind of progress or financial achievement or a promotion in my job or more profit in business.” In this type of devotion you do not pray to Parama Puruśa to help you by harming your opponents – so far, so good – but still you do not want to attain Parama Puruśa, you also want something for yourself. And for this reason, you will not attain Parama Puruśa. This is no doubt a type of devotion, but it is not the best type of devotion.

Yet the third type of devotion is called sáttvikii bhakti [sentient devotion]. In this devotion you do not pray to Paramátmá to achieve anything. You do not want Him to harm your opponents, you do not expect anything from Him. This devotion is better in that sense. But there is still a defect inherent in this type of devotion. It is just like the prayer of an old man who feels that if he does not carry on his religious observances he is likely to be criticized by his neighbours. So he carries on his practices with that sort of devotion. Or sometimes a person prays to the Lord saying, “O Lord, I have been here on earth for a long time, I am faced with so many problems in life, now, O Lord, take me on Your lap.” Here the person who is praying wants the cessation of his or her worldly afflictions.

You cannot attain Parama Puruśa with this sort of prayer either, because at this stage you still do not say that you want Parama Puruśa to be your own. This will not serve the purpose. Only when the mind has an intense desire to attain Parama Puruśa alone, and nothing else, is it the highest devotion. This is called kevalá bhakti.

You can make an analogy. A little child is crying for its mother. But what does the mother do? She immediately rushes to the child and gives it a number of colourful toys. The child stops crying immediately. But if a persistent child insists that it does not want anything else but its mother, the mother is compelled to take the child on her lap. So the devotees with kevalá bhakti in their hearts do not ask Parama Puruśa for anything. Even if Parama Puruśa proposes to give them this or that, the aspirant will say, “No, Lord, I don’t want anything but You. I want to remain with you. What You are offering to me is a trivial thing; I want You and You alone, nothing else.”

Now even within this ideal state of devotion there is a gradation. Even those who have this sort of ideal devotion may think that they will worship Parama Puruśa because by worshipping him they may be able to enjoy bliss. So here also there is some slight selfishness, because one shows devotion to Parama Puruśa with an expectation of attaining some bliss thereby. This sort of devotion with a slight tinge of selfishness is call ráganugá bhakti. Although it is one of the higher categories of devotion, it is not altogether free from a tinge of selfishness.

There is yet another type of devotion, which is free from even this tinge of selfishness. It is [the highest kind of] kevalá bhakti, [the highest kind of] non-attributional devotion. Here the devotee says, “I serve Him, I worship Him, because I want Him to get bliss from my devotion or service or worship. I don’t want anything for myself. I want Him to enjoy the bliss.” This type of devotion is called rágátmiká bhakti, and the type of devotee having this sort of non-attributional devotion is called a gopa.

There are people who have a mistaken idea that gopa means “cowherd”. Actually, Gopáyate yah sa gopah – in Sanskrit, the word gopáyate means to give pleasure – “A gopa is one who gives pleasure to Parama Puruśa, one whose very nature is to give pleasure to Parama Puruśa.”

Now we see that in the proper spirit of the terms there is no difference between yoga and Tantra, and that both yoga and Tantra strengthen the aspect of devotion in the human heart. The cult of yoga and Tantra strengthens and nourishes the devotional aspect in a spiritual aspirant. This cult has been called in the scriptures puśt́hi márga, because the practice of this cult nourishes [puśt́hi means “nourishment”] the latent devotional faculty within spiritual aspirants. The highest stage of this puśt́hi márga is rágátmiká bhakti, and Parama Puruśa is attainable by this rágátmiká bhakti. He is not attainable by the vanity of jiṋána or the restlessness of karma.(5) He is attainable by devotion; there is no other way to attain him.


(1) Yoga should be pronounced [“joga”], not [“yoga”], according to the rule Padánte padamadhyasthe ya-kára [i]ya ucyate – “If ya occurs at the beginning of a word, it is pronounced [‘ja’], but if in the middle or at the end, [‘ya’].” So yoga should be pronounced [“joga”], not [“yoga”], but viyoga should be pronounced [“viyoga”], not [“vijoga”].
(2) The basic fifty vrttis may be expressed in ten directions (or through the ten organs – five sensory and five motor), and both internally and externally, for a total of one thousand (50 x 10 x 2). –Eds.
(3) In whatever exists in this universe, or whatever action is performed, there is a sonic expression. When people laugh they produce a sound, há-há-há. When they walk they make a sound, khat́-khat́-khat́. And thus for every action there is an accompanying sound or sound expression. To denote an existence also there is a sound expression. You exist: therefore wherever there is light, wherever there is an acoustic wave, these come and dash against you and get reflected. The reflection also has an accompanying sound expression and an accompanying colour expression. The accompanying sound expression is called the acoustic root, in Sanskrit biija mantra. Thus dullness is a psychic propensity, and ta is the acoustic root of that psychic propensity. Ta is also a letter of the dental group.
(4) Sanskrit that was unclear in the original magazine publication of this discourse omitted here. –Eds.
(5) Jiṋána, karma and bhakti are forms of spiritual practice which emphasize, respectively, discrimination, selfless action, and devotion. –Eds.

17 November 1979 DMC, Etah